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Inevitable Foundation has announced its inaugural five-person cohort for its newly launched Elevate Collective as well as its 2022 Caring Across Generations Care Award recipient.
Keisha Zollar, Gisselle Legere, Sheridan O’Donnell, Jenn Lloyd and Brett Maline have been selected as the winter 2022 cohort for Elevate, a program designed to support mid- and upper-level disabled writers with mentorship, coaching and networking opportunities that can literally elevate the careers of the established screenwriters. Recipients for the grant will receive a $5,000 professional development grant and Elevate Collective benefits.
“These $5,000 grants can be used for anything from professional development, such as career coaching or script analysis, to work-from-home setups, which for this audience is super important,” Inevitable Foundation co-founder Richie Siegel tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The money can also be used to option IP, and that’s an area where we think disabled writers specifically are incredibly disenfranchised in from an access and financial resources perspective. As far as we know, this is the first program ever to allow disabled writers to option IP and help them along in that process.”
Legere is a Cuban-American drama writer who has written for multiple network and streaming shows, including NBC’s New Amsterdam, with her episode “Give Me a Sign” exploring language deprivation issues that denying Deaf children sign language can cause.
O’Donnell is a Korean-American writer and director who is low vision/legally blind and has an upcoming feature Little Brother starring J.K. Simmons, Daniel Diemer (The Half Of It) and Philip Ettinger (First Reformed).
Lloyd is a comedy writer with more than 12 years of experience writing network sitcoms and family comedies, including The War At Home, Shake It Up, KC Undercover and The Barbarian and The Troll.
Maline, an actor-writer-director and former castmember of the CBS Diversity Showcase, Groundlings Sunday Company and three-year UCB house sketch, has developed a half-hour comedy with Sony and wrote for the upcoming season of Marvel’s Loki.
Zollar, a disabled comedian, writer and showrunner, has worked on Hulu’s limited series Mike, Young Love and Netflix’s animated series Agent King, in addition to being one of the co-creators and stars of Netflix’s Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show. Zollar has also been named the Inevitable Foundation x Caring Across Generations Care Award winner, granting her additional support and access to ongoing script and development consulting services specifically with the Caring Across Generations team.
“Disability representation in media, entertainment and culture is critical to countering ableist values and narratives that hold all of us back. We hope this award will provide Keisha — and eventually many others— with the resources to be able to tell their full stories on their own terms,” Lydia Storie, associate director of culture change at Caring Across Generations, said in a statement.
“It’s important to show that disabled people can be care providers. No one thinks about that. No one ever thinks that a disabled person could care for another disabled person,” Inevitable Foundation co-founder Marisa Torelli-Pedevska tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s something really important that we’re excited to do with this award.”
For Inevitable Foundation, the Elevate Collective — a program that will select writers for three separate cohorts annually and accepts applications on a rolling basis — is a chance to give more experienced disabled screenwriters in Hollywood the types of support that their non-disabled counterparts more regularly have access to.
“There were 1,300 first-look and overall deals on record last year. Obviously, the first looks and overalls determine who has power and money in Hollywood. That’s one of the largest currencies. Of the 1,300, two of them are with disabled people. On the TV side, 97 percent of writers rooms have no upper-level disabled writers, showrunners or producers,” Siegel says. “So we look at those stats and it’s clear there are a handful of disabled creators in power in the industry. We wanted to basically take people that have some existing credits, experience, infrastructure and capability and figure out how we quickly get them from the middle to the top.”
The collective will help provide resources to a group that is currently facing “many rooms with shorter seasons,” Siegel says, along with “all the things that are gearing up with the Writers Guild in the spring” — something that is having “very material effects on people’s income.” But he notes the program also aims to give participants access to two other areas that their counterparts already have. “A-list talent and directors and IP are two things driving so much of this industry and basically disabled people have very limited access to both of those things,” he added. “We’re starting to do a lot of work to open those up.”
Torelli-Pedevska also noted that networking — both in terms of peers and other industry people — is a primary aim of the program and something that is essential to the success of writers. “What these writers might not have when compared to their peers who are non-disabled is a network of people and we know that in Hollywood that’s so crucial in order to rise up in any way,” she said. “A lot of networking events are just not super accessible, especially in a time of COVID when meetings are still in crowded spaces, so it can be hard to find other disabled writers. You almost don’t know where to look. So a big part of what we’re doing is connecting the dots of this community and saying, ‘You’re all here now; meet each other and build this community that you need.'”
Ultimately, the Elevate Collective initiative is a chance to build on their existing infrastructure and goals of creating a wider — and more supported — community of disabled creatives in Hollywood.
“When we started the organization, we started with our Accelerate Fellowship and we wanted to kind of take some pretty serious bets on a small group of people. We’ve named eight fellows so far and funded over a quarter million dollars directly to these disabled writers,” Siegel says. “At the same time, this community is more than a few people, and we wanted to really look at how to start to scale our impact. It became really clear that we would need to develop a program that, if the fellowship was for these very large targeted grants, we’d have a program in parallel that provides a much larger number of more efficient grants.”
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